This article was originally published by the Omaha World Herald on January 28th, 2016.
I have always enjoyed working with kids. The story of how I started mentoring at Boys Town actually began at Dowd Chapel on the Boys Town campus. I frequently attend Mass there, so I was aware of Father Flanagan’s story, his rich legacy and the mission of Boys Town. When I retired, I hoped I could volunteer and be a small part of that mission.
I stopped Father Val Peter after Mass one day and asked him about volunteering. He said he would get back to me. A few days later, he called and asked me to meet him at Wegner Middle School. I started mentoring there the next week.
The environment was very welcoming and supportive. Shortly after starting at Wegner, I was asked if I would like to volunteer at Boys Town High School. At first I was apprehensive about mentoring older students. But like my experience at Wegner, the staff there was wonderful and very helpful as well. It’s nice to have the opportunity to volunteer at both schools. They are each unique in their own way.
As a mentor, I repeatedly see some pretty special things. Here are a few examples: a light in a student’s eyes when he or she understands a difficult math concept; a reading student who makes the transition from viewing reading as a task to something to be enjoyed; a shy or discouraged student who begins to look you in the eye; when students demonstrate confidence in their ability to complete assignments, and begin to ask questions and accept feedback; and, probably most important, when students’ body language says their self-esteem is growing.
I have loved mentoring all the kids I’ve worked with, but there is one special memory that really stands out. I worked with a 12-year-old boy at Wegner for the whole school year. He had a rough start and there were peaks and valleys, but by spring he was doing great.
On the last day of school, as we were saying our goodbyes, he said to me, “You know what the best thing about Boys Town is? I get to eat three meals a day. See how I’ve gained some weight this year!”
I’ve been blessed to work with students from many ethnic backgrounds and educational levels. It is rare that a student you work with does not show growth over the course of a semester or a school year.
The heart of the mentoring program is the dedicated staff members who run the program. They are there to help and guide you. The learning packets they prepare for each student are especially helpful. They do a good job of keeping you informed with newsletters and e-mails and are always available to answer questions. I don’t know how they keep track of it all, but we mentors couldn’t do our part without them.
Boys Town is a special place and mentoring has enriched my life in many ways. I have made good friends and it feels good to be a small part of Father Flanagan’s vision.